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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 November 2006

Big Bucks for Starbucks - nothing for small farmers

GLOBAL COFFEE chain Starbucks is the McDonalds of the coffee world with hundreds of shops throughout Britain and the world. Its annual revenue is 3.2 billion. This wealthy giant opposes a plan by Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, to gain more control over its coffee trade and a larger share of the earnings for millions of poverty-stricken coffee farmers.

Last year the Ethiopian government applied to trademark its best-known coffee names. That would enable Ethiopia to control their use in the market and help farmers receive a bigger share of the retail price. Ethiopia's coffee industry and farmers could earn around 88 million extra per year.

Starbucks filed protests against these trademark applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office which denied these applications, creating serious obstacles for Ethiopia.

In the global coffee market, profit is king. For every 1 people spend in a Starbucks or other coffee house only 5p gets into the small farmers' hands. A few big multinationals exploit around 25 million small farmers while the terms of trade have fluctuated wildly and in fact got steadily worse since the IMF forcibly deregulated the market in recent decades.

Fear of egg on their smug corporate faces may force Starbucks to act more 'ethically'. However, nothing short of a socialist transformation is going to give the farmers and workers more permanent assistance.

Keith White

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